By DJ Dave Hoffenberg
Red, white, blue, orange and green. Happy Fourth of July, everyone. If you’re looking for something to do the coming weekend, head to McGrath’s Irish Pub in Killington, and see the great Irish duo, Brothers Flynn. They’ll be playing July 6-7, 7:30 p.m. to close both nights. They’ve been rockin’ the pub since 2013. The name says it all: Tom and Bill Flynn make up the band. Tom plays guitar, harmonica and sings a lot of the lead vocals. Older brother Bill plays percussion (bodhran, djembe and cajon) and sings as well. They come up to McGrath’s three to four times a year. I had the pleasure of speaking with Bill to learn about them and their music.
If you look at their Facebook page cover photo, Tom is on the left and Bill on the right. That picture was taken some years back and Bill said laughing, that they can both afford sleeves now.
They play mostly covers but do throw in a few originals. Obviously those covers are mostly Irish, but not all traditional, because they like to play some of the rebel songs as well. Bill said, “People like hearing that. It’s a little bit of a rousing type of thing.”
Besides the Irish music they do some contemporary music like the blues and some folk-type stuff like Bob Dylan and Van Morrison. They do one Jimmy Buffet song, “A Pirate Looks at 40,” but they adapted it to, “A Pirate Looks at 60.” A few crowd pleaser songs he likes to play are “Back Home In Derry” and “Black Velvet Band.” You can shout out requests, but just go by their policy. Flynn said, “We make an announcement right at the start of each set: If you have any requests, just write them on a twenty and send them up. We’ll play the song, but we’ll take the money.” Seriously though, he said that they try to play as many as possible but there are just so many great songs out there in the Irish genre and they can’t learn them all. They will try, even if they don’t completely know it. They have a pretty wide repertoire so you won’t be disappointed. They play both of my favorites: “Charlie on the MTA” and “Drunken Sailor.” They also get into the Irish punk bands like The Pogues, Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphy’s. Bill said, “It’s kind of interesting hearing that music with just a cajon, guitar and harmonica.”
They grew up in a musical family. Bill said, “We’ve been playing together for quite a while now. We grew up in a household that had a lot of music in it. Not so much instrumentally, but a lot of singing.” Their mom sang in the church choir for years and their dad had a great Irish tenor voice. Bill added, “We learned a lot of songs from those folks.”
Bill said he kind of “fell into” playing percussion. Back in the 70s he was playing rhythm guitar in a progressive country band, playing Waylon Jennings before he was even popular, and stuff like that. Tom joined the band in the latter years of that incarnation. Bill said, “It was a lot of fun, but it wasn’t serious at all. After that, life kind of got in the way; family, kids and a full-time job. I put the guitar away for a while and regretted it ever since.” Fifteen years ago he took up the percussion and started fooling around with the bodhran and djembe. Eight years ago he started playing the cajon which he said was kind of neat. Bill explained: “I’ve been with the percussion ever since. When I first started playing it [the cajon], it wasn’t as prevalent as it is now. Almost everyone’s got one now, and that’s fine. When I first started playing it, people would ask me where the kit was. There is no kit, it’s just this little box.”
Tom has always been a guitarist and then taught himself harmonica. Bill said, “I tease him when he puts the holder on over his head. I tell the crowd they have to wait a minute while Tommy puts his headgear on. We get a chuckle out of that now and then, when people haven’t heard it before.”
Although they’ve been playing together forever, the Brothers Flynn duo version calls 2010 their start. Before that they were in a Celtic rock band, Flynn 529, which was a five-piece. Bill said after five years of that, guys decided to go their own way. Being in a duo is a lot easier. Bill says, “We can get into more places. It’s almost like a symbiotic relationship. I pretty much know where he’s going to go and he knows what I’m going to do. It makes it nice and simple, and it’s a lot easier to load in and load out [laughing].”
They really enjoy playing together. Bill said, “It’s a lot of fun, plus we both play golf … We get together, tear up a golf course and have a couple of beverages. It’s still fun, that’s the key right there. As long as it’s fun, we’ll keep on doing it as long as we’re physically able to, anyway.” They’re both in their mid-60s and have no plans to stop anytime soon. Bill said, “You don’t feel old because you stop playing, you stop playing cause you get old.”
Bill said he likes songs that are well presented. “Not so much the performer, but I liked the older rock ‘n’ rollers like The Who. They were bombastic. I like the way the songs are presented and if I like it, I pay attention to it. I’m still kind of that way. Most music I like.” His 23-year-old son has turned him on to some of the newer Indie rock.
The same as his other listening pleasures, he goes by how it’s presented.
They both live about nine miles outside of Albany, N.Y. and play a lot around there. Besides traveling to Killington, they’ve gone as far east as Springfield, Mass. and Hartford, Conn. They’ve also traveled out to Syracuse and Saratoga Springs, N.Y. They try and keep their travel limited to a hour or two drive. They like playing McGrath’s because it’s a two-night gig and owner Murray McGrath puts them up in the band room so it makes for a nice weekend.
Bill seemed to fall into a few things. He fell into playing percussion and he said they “fell into” getting this gig five years ago, by accident almost. A friend of theirs was playing in the band Skuttlebutt and suggested they talk to McGrath and he introduced them. He told them his schedule was quite full. The Thursday before July 4 weekend in 2013, the lead singer of the band that was supposed to play could not get out of his day job and had to cancel. McGrath called Bill and asked if they could play, basically the next day, and they said, “Absolutely.” Bill said, “That’s how we got up there, and we must be doing something right, because they keep asking us to come back.”
They love McGrath’s and it’s mostly because of the people that come there, and the staff. Bill said, “The staff is fantastic. Murray, Patty, Owen, Anna and Bob. I’ve never seen a more hard working staff than them. They treat us like gold. The thing that Tommy and I noticed immediately when we first started there was the people in the pub, regardless if there are 10 people or it’s wall-to-wall, they’re listening to what we’re doing. We’re not just background music. They’re invested into what the performers are doing. That’s just something that’s hard to find. They know that they want to hear. Those are the people that are coming up with the interesting, obscure requests. They’re great, it’s just amazing.”
Brothers Flynn have been playing for a long time because they thoroughly enjoy what they do. Bill said, “The key for Tommy and myself is to still have fun. Sometimes someone will shout a request and I’ll look at him to see if he knows it. He’ll say, ‘I got the words so we’ll figure it out.’ It’s stuff like that. It’s just gotta be fun. If we can make some toes tap, put some smiles on some people’s faces and even have them sing along, it’s great. If some musician friends of ours are in the audience, we’ll call them up to play. It’s a community type of thing. If we can get the crowd, regardless of size, well, the bigger the better and the better for the venue. Enjoying themselves – that makes it fun for us. The more feedback we get from the audience, the easier it makes our job. Not that we consider this a job.”
Photo courtesy of Dave Hoffenberg